Continuity Is a Double-Edged Sword

Bittersweet Kirk
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Continuity is a wonderful thing — if things work. If they don’t, it is a problem, and changes must happen. The Minnesota Vikings returned their whole offensive line for the 2023 campaign. That could lead to improvement because the players are more comfortable with each other and have more experience now than a year ago, but on the flip side, there won’t be any reinforcements.

Continuity Is a Double-Edged Sword

Continuity Is a Double-Edged Sword
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) gets sacked by Miami Dolphins linebacker Elandon Roberts. © JIM RASSOL/THE PALM BEACH POST / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The offensive line has been a significant problem in Minnesota for years. Quarterbacks ending up on the ground has been a common thing. Solid defenses have been feasting against the weakness of the Vikings’ offense for about a decade. In 2016, the not-mobile Sam Bradford regularly had to run to his right directly after receiving the snap because T.J. Clemming was the left tackle, the 49ers defensive line dominated the Vikings in the 2019 divisional round postseason contest, and Kirk Cousins was the most hit quarterback in the league in 2022.

The Vikings invested in their line – all five starters in 2022 (and expected starters in 2023) were drafted in the top two rounds in the last five drafts. Ed Ingram was a second-rounder in 2022, Christian Darrisaw a first-rounder in 2021, Ezra Cleveland a second-rounder in 2020, Garrett Bradbury a first-rounder in 2019, and Brian O’Neill a second-rounder in 2018.

OL Ranking for 2023
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

After spending this much draft capital on the line, it should not just be fixed; it should be a strength of the Vikes and be dominant like that of the Eagles. However, it is the opposite, besides the two strong offensive tackles. Darrisaw and O’Neill form one of the best tackle duos in the NFL.

The interior line (Cleveland – Bradbury – Ingram) will be once again a reason for concern among Vikings fans. Quarterback Cousins was portrayed as a guy who was hit way too much in 2022, and he indeed led the league in quarterback hits. An unacceptable statistic.

Cleveland has improved in every season of his pro career, but his pass protection is still a reason for concern. If he can make a step in the right direction and become a more consistent pass blocker, he will actually turn into one of the better guards in football.

Bradbury had his best season in 2022, but after three underwhelming seasons to start his career, it is fair to ask if his better performances were a product of an improved skillset or if he was just properly used by the new regime and if the new scheme played to his strengths.

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Last year’s rookie Ingram entered the starting lineup with high expectations, but that didn’t work out well. He was one of the worst guards in football, costing the team some valuable drives after giving up sacks or, almost comically, stepping on Couisins’ feet multiple times.

Theoretically, the offensive line should improve in their second year in the system, with each other in the starting group and with OL coach Chris Kuper. The players are all relatively young and should still have some more untapped upside left. Right tackle O’Neill is a mystery. He is recovering from a partially torn Achilles tendon suffered late in the season.

There’s always the possibility to add another offensive lineman via free agency or a trade, and it shouldn’t be ruled out. It will be a fascinating storyline if the regime is right about keeping the status quo or if they should’ve made some changes.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt